Wheels Up: The Best Restaurants in the U.S. Are Worth the Plane Ticket

Updated 04/23/19

In the food world, the James Beard Awards are akin to the Oscars; they're the penultimate recognition for outstanding culinary talent. Year after year, the James Beard Foundation hosts a prestigious award ceremony, rewarding household chefs and rising stars in a variety of categories that spans the entire country across various categories from wine and pastry to service and restaurateur. But just like the Oscars took a stance this year with the #MeToo movement, something felt different at this year's James Beard Awards.

For the first time in history, over half of the categories were won by women or people of color, according to The New Yorker.

This year, women were at the forefront of the James Beard Awards—and for good reason. They have been behind the country's best restaurants, best dishes, and best pastries. Ready to turn your culinary experiences up a notch? From the best Carribean to Israeli food and more, here are the best restaurants in the U.S. this year, according to the James Beard Foundation. Save these to your Google Maps and make a reservation next time you're in town. You won't be disappointed.

In Brooklyn: Try Lilia

James Beard Winners — Lilia
Courtesy of Lilia

Chef Missy Robbins scooped up the award for best chef in New York City, not an easy feat in a place where culinary competition is fierce. Her Williamsburg restaurant, Lilia, located in a former auto-body shop, serves up some of the best Italian food in the city (we told you so), from housemade pasta to wood-fired pizza. Missy Robbins's 2016 return to the New York culinary scene was a relief for many, who grieved when she left A Voce in 2013.

Order: The sheep's milk agnolotti drenched in saffron

In San Francisco: Try Atelier Crenn

James Beard Winners — Atelier Crenn
Courtesy of Atelier Crenn

Across the country on the Pacific coast, Dominique Crenn took home the award for Best Chef: West (comprising of California, Hawaii, and Nevada). We can't say we're surprised. Her San Francisco restaurant, Atelier Crenn, was awarded two Michelin stars in 2012. She was also named the world's best female chef by World's 50 Best Restaurants, an award she has been vocally critical of: "It's stupid. A chef is a chef," she told The Washington Post. Her cuisine consists of artfully presented French-inspired dishes.

Order: Grains and seeds—smoked buckwheat, quinoa soil, smoked trout roe, and smoked sturgeon pearls with a warm bonito dashi broth

In New Orleans: Try Compère Lapin

James Beard Winners — Compère Lapin
Courtesy of Compère Lapin

In the South, the best chef award went to former Top Chef contestant Nina Compton of Compère Lapin in New Orleans. The restaurant (which stands for brother rabbit in French), features a Caribbean- and Creole-inspired cuisine with French influences. Born in St. Lucia, Compton cut her teeth alongside Daniel Boulud and Scott Conant before opening her New Orleans restaurant in 2015.

Order: Curried goat with sweet potato gnocchi and cashews

In Boston: Try Myers + Chang

James Beard Winners

In the northeast, Karen Akunowicz took home the best chef awards for New England and upstate New York. She is the executive chef and partner of Boston's Myers + Chang, an indie diner serving interpretations on Chinese, Taiwanese, Thai, and Vietnamese specialties. This was the fourth James Beard nomination for the Top Chef contestant, who has received many accolades for her innovative cooking at Myers + Chang.

Order: Pan-roasted soy glazed salmon, Hakka eggplant, and cold Taiwanese dan dan noodles

In Philadelphia: Try Zahav

Best Restaurants James Beard Winners
Courtesy of Zahav

Stemming from North Carolina, Camille Cogswell brought home the rising star chef of the year award. At 27, Cogswell is an outstanding pastry chef at Zahav, an Israeli restaurant in Philadelphia serving up elevated twists on traditional cuisine. The restaurant has received many accolades, in part for its tasting menu. One thing's for certain: Keep room for dessert. 

Order: The Malabi custard with Sachleb, mandarin, and sesame

In Birmingham: Try Highlands Bar & Grill

James Beard Winners 2018

Back in the south, Dolester Miles won the outstanding pastry chef award for her work at Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Alabama. The restaurant, which serves a farm-to-table French-inspired Southern fare, is known for having revolutionized Birmingham cuisine in the '80s when the definition of gastronomy was still tied to flambéed dishes and country club dinners. The chef, Frank Stitt, received a James Beard award, himself, in 2008.

Order: Classic coconut pecan genoise, chantilly cream, and crème anglaise cake

In New York City: Try Prune

James Beard Winners — Prune
Courtesy of Prune

Last, but certainly not least, the outstanding chef of the year award (equivalent to the Oscar's best picture), was given to New York City's Gabrielle Hamilton of East Village's Prune. Hamilton, known for her best-selling book Blood, Bones & Butter and her season on Mind of a Chef, is a longstanding icon in Manhattan's culinary scene and already took home a best chef award for New York City in 2011.

Order: Roasted lamb ribs and skordalia

Gabrielle Hamilton Blood, Bones & Butter $13
Dominique Crenn Atelier Crenn $38
Joanne Chang Myers + Chang at Home $22

Next up: The best restaurants in Paris will convince you to cross the pond.

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